Progressives confidently contend that schools need not ask or inform parents about matters involving their child’s “gender identity” at school.
Let’s try a thought experiment.
Imagine the issue is religious identity rather than gender identity. Imagine that Canadian public schools teach children that they have souls. Imagine that select staff at every school are dedicated to ensuring the school is a safe space for spiritual exploration. Imagine that schools host special clubs for students to explore their spirituality. These clubs host guest speakers from outside of the school. Imagine that some students change their religious identity and adopt new names for themselves, which staff and students must use.
Imagine that for some school activities, students are grouped with others who similarly spiritually self-identify. And imagine that students’ religious self-identification at school and participation in these clubs is kept secret from parents because “children don’t need parents’ permission to be who they are.”
I think most Canadians would be uncomfortable with this, at best. And many would rightly intuit that there is something legally suspect about it.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says states must respect parents’ liberty to direct their children’s moral and religious education according to their convictions. The Covenant, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also calls the family the “fundamental group unit of society” and says it is “entitled to protection by society and the State.”
Canada is a party to the Covenant, and these principles are deeply embedded in our law. In the 1980s, Canadian courts ruled in several cases that religious activities in public schools, such as prayer or scripture reading violated religious freedom – even though parents were informed of such activities and could opt their children out of them.
But today, there is no opting out of the gender ideology that permeates public school policies and curricula.
This orthodoxy teaches children that they have a disembodied “gender identity” that is not based on bodily sex, yet which is somehow still defined by reference to the biological, binary categories of male and female (hence terms such as transgender and non-binary). It teaches that this immaterial gendered self is the true self. This psychological self overrides bodily sex, which is merely “assigned at birth” and can supposedly be changed via synthetic hormones and surgery. (Such changes can make one’s body resemble an opposite-sex body but cannot make it fulfil the same sexual function.)
According to this belief system, it is possible for the disembodied-yet-gendered self to be “born in the wrong body.” Teaching this theory to children over the past decade and more has contributed to skyrocketing rates of childhood and adolescent gender dysphoria.
How did we get to a place where it is not only acceptable but expected to tell children that a boy can be born in a girl’s body or vice versa? It’s a long story, well told by The Economist journalist Helen Joyce in Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality and by the theologian Carl Trueman in Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (2020), among others.
But the bottom line is that such a claim rests upon certain articles of faith. The belief in a disembodied-yet-gendered true self is not scientific. In fact, it is not even in line with the thought of leading critical gender theorists like Judith Butler, for whom no true gendered self exists.
Yet somehow, progressive politicians and commentators suggest it is obvious that schools must (a) teach the new orthodoxy, (b) host extracurricular “Gay and Sexuality Alliance” (GSA) clubs and keep their membership and activities secret from parents, and (c) allow children to identify as the opposite sex and to change their names and pronouns without even informing parents.
Consider the reaction of Justin Trudeau and others to the news that New Brunswick was making a modest change in its school policy on gender self-identification. The province’s Policy 713 now says that a school needs parental permission to use a young student’s preferred name rather than his or her legal name for official purposes (class lists, report cards, etc.). Justin Trudeau and others swiftly condemned the change as hateful and oppressive.
In reality, the changes to the policy don’t go far enough, as the policy still allows students to participate in sports or use washrooms based on gender self-identification. The policy also mandates that student participation in GSA clubs be kept secret from parents.
“Social transition” (adopting a new name and pronouns, publicly identifying as a member of the opposite sex, etc.) makes medical transition (cross-sex hormones and surgeries) more likely, along with all the health complications that accompany it. That is just one reason why parents should absolutely be involved in a child’s decision to socially transition.
Schools need parental permission to give a child Tylenol, take a child on field trips, post pictures of a child, and much more. How could they not need permission to change a child’s name and “gender identity”? That’s an important question, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We should also be asking whether public schools should be teaching the new gender theory to children as though it’s gospel truth.
John Sikkema is a constitutional lawyer with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada.
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